The Optimized Doctor

Losing and Preserving Dignity

Jeffrey Benabio, MD, MBA

September 28, 2022

Queen Elizabeth is everywhere. She was even on the last slide of a presentation on COVID, monkeypox, and influenza vaccines given by our physician in charge of quality. This was odd. The presenter wasn't English. The Queen had nothing to do with vaccines. Nor apparently would she have said even if she did have an opinion about them. But there we were, an audience of physicians and staff pausing for a moment of remembrance of her.

Dr Jeffrey Benabio

I'm not a Monarchist – except perhaps for the Kennedys. I grew up in New England. I don't have an opinion on whether or not the British Crown should endure. But I do marvel at the astounding effect Queen Elizabeth's passing had on so many around the world. Her personal qualities, particularly her steadiness and humane sympathy, might explain why so many are sad hearing the news. But also I think there was something in her role that we all wished for: Not the owning of palaces and sceptres, but rather, the respect that was given to her.

She was a stateswoman of "unmatched dignity," the White House wrote. That was true, but it seems being the Queen might have been the last job on earth where such dignity is still possible. Certainly in politics, education, and even health care, there doesn't seem to be much left lately.

The same day of that presentation I walked into the room of a patient 22 minutes late, she held her arm forth tapping her watch to indicate the time and my tardiness. Unnecessary, if not impertinent. Covering for one of my female physician colleagues, I read an email from a patient which began, "Dear Julie, With all due respect …" Another patient submitted a photo for us to review that was clearly taken from her car while waiting at a stop light. Hardly the consideration a clinical encounter should be given.

Much has been lost for patients. too. There are patients trying to make appointments lately who are told: "There are none. Call back later." Gone it seems are the days of a two-part office visit, the first part fully clothed in the physician's office, then the exam. There is no dignified way to remove exam paper stuck to your backside before introducing yourself to the doctor. Maybe that last slide of Her Majesty was in fact for us to have a moment of silence for what we've all lost.

Walter Bagehot (pronounce it "Baj-et" if you tell this story to your Harlan wine friends) was a political writer and editor of The Economist in the 1860s. He famously said that the secret to the English government was having two kinds of institutions, the dignified and the efficient. The efficient, Parliament, was responsible for all the work. The dignified, the Crown, gives significance and holds everyone's respect. If medicine ever once was both dignified and efficient, we aren't lately. We push to reduce backlogs, offer same-time virtual care, work to reduce costs. We've driven medicine to the efficient and left little of the dignity it seems.

The Queen will be remembered for her lifelong dedication to the laborious service of others. Even though each of us in medicine pledges the same, we also mourn this week the loss of dignity that once came with it.

Benabio is director of Healthcare Transformation and chief of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente San Diego. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not represent those of Kaiser Permanente. Benabio is @Dermdoc on Twitter. Write to him at

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.